Passion vs Transaction

At home we are the proud owners of a 17 year old vehicle of which I will not say the brand. It is a fairly timeless model and even if no one throws its real age at it, it had to have a few aches and pains. This week it started to give some strange pulls and we decided to take it to the dealer. There, we were welcomed according to their customer service ceremony: they used our name three times throughout the process, they connected the vehicle to a computer that detects the origin of problem as their protocol states and, two days later, they gave us the car along with a special product of the house as a gift and having changed (and charged) three more parts than it was necessary “just in case”. Just when we left the dealer, we saw that the pulls continued, so we went back again. The person in charge tested the vehicle with us, saw that indeed the problem persisted, reconnected the car to the computer as per protocol and, according to the software oracle, the vehicle had no problem. The technician told us that we had two options: either they could investigate what could be wrong with the vehicle, which could be long and costly because the machine said that the car had nothing and therefore they could not guarantee that they could discover it or, directly, deregister the vehicle. To us, it was simply shocking that someone, for the procedure’s sake, would be unwilling to fix a problem with a vehicle that he himself had experienced just because a computer would not identify a fault and he should go off script. What kind of company decides this way of working?

I am the daughter of a mechanic. My father was passionate about carburetion. So much so that he was a true autodidact. Through his hands passed both competition vehicles (such as the one of the 70’s rally driver Antonio Zanini) and super luxury cars (whose brands I will not mention) with very specific problems that not even their own manufacturers could solve and they themselves used to contact my father for help. In his small workshop in the Gracia neighbourhood of Barcelona, my father would spend hours checking the interiors of those imposing machines, but also solving the problems of other ordinary vehicles, with the same passion and dedication and always, always, finding a solution. I grew up watching my father make his passion his profession and that passion led him to evolve beyond automobiles. This is undoubtedly one of the life lessons I learned from my father and which I unconsciously apply in my day-to-day. That is precisely why, when I come across cases like the one at the dealership where we took our beloved 17-year-old vehicle, I am struck by the tragedy of the transactionalization of the professions, which relegates human talent to second or third place in favour of what a machine or a procedure says.

As a professor of innovation, I am the first fan of the emergence of bots in our labour landscape, especially for all those dangerous, dull and dirty jobs where it is not necessary to waste precious human talent. However, it makes no sense for human beings to rely on a protocol or on what an device we have created ourselves says to justify not doing a job that requires our expertise and savoir faire and that calls for a deeper involvement. In other words, the dealership’s way of working makes me see the person who served us not as a mechanical specialist (at least not in the sense that my father was), but as someone who has learned a protocol and who is dedicated to replicating what a software tells him. Clearly, if we humans continue to take our professions this way (and it looks like companies are working hard in this direction) of course a robot will take our job. After all, what good is a professional who does not apply passion but procedures to what he or she does? And what good is a brand that bets on having protocols and surveys that go before the essential, which is to have professionals who respond to the customer using their own talent and solving problems, instead of applying a silly mystery shopper checklist?

For the global perspective to change, we need to free the concept of “passion”, as applied to work, from the patina of sappy romanticism that the hater narrative has tried to bestow upon it. Working with passion is not something for the chosen, the enlightened or a utopia. Working with passion is nothing but making your natural talent aligned with the activity you do for a living. Let your talent come before a procedure or a software. We need companies to organize along these idea and we, the people, must be willing to stop considering work as a mere transaction. Transaction leads to boredom and after boredom, the only thing left to do is to let our arms down (and complain about that on twitter). And that is the last thing we need to do if we want to leave a better world to those who will come after us.

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